May the Bridges We Burn Light the Way
Sarah Parsons
Like many other readers, my introduction to Abigail Solomon- Godeau’s work
was her article “Going Native: Paul Gauguin and the Invention of Primitivist
Modernism” published in the July 1989 issue of Art in America. Taking the 1988
blockbuster exhibition on Gauguin at the Grand Palais in Paris as her sub-
ject, she produced a withering critique of art historical mythologies relative
to the heroic, misunderstood genius- artist, French colonialism, exoticism and
eroticism, and, hardly least, the ways in which “femininity is conventionally
linked, when not altogether conflated, with the primitive.”1 In so doing, she
carefully delineated the curatorial and scholarly strategies that conceptually
naturalized these formations that produce and reproduce fantasies about cul-
tural production.
That issue of Art in America was passed to me as an undergraduate by an
older student with a “psst, check this out” excitement normally reserved for
the exchange of purloined erotica among adolescents. It helped that one of our
more conservative professors was among the two scholars Solomon- Godeau
chose to represent the essentialist, ahistorical, sexist, and, frankly, inane analy-
ses regularly imposed on Gauguin and his artistic output. But the extensive
degree to which this essay has been anthologized and cited since its original
publication suggests that its devastating institutional and discursive critique
resonated widely.
The writing is not easy (“adumbrate” is not a word commonly found in
Art in America and certainly sent me to the dictionary) nor does Solomon-
Godeau go to great lengths to simplify the French deconstructionist theoreti-
cal frame from which she drew her lines of argument. Yet the analysis is so
specific in its details and so pointed in its targets that it read as a call to arms,
Previous Page Next Page